During a recent community mobilization and supervisory visit to Abat community Onna Local Government Area (LGA) in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, colleagues saw nets from last yearâ€™s mass distribution being used to protect vegetable gardens.Â Bright Orji commented that, â€œWhen we spoke with community about the mis-use, they claimed that those were torn nets. We did not believe them, and also told them that torn nets could be amended.â€
The team took four pictures of different nets in several places, Orji said that, â€œMis-use is on the rise, and we need to counter this urgently.â€ Before they had nets community members used a small shade built of palm fronds to protect the plants, but apparently the nets are seen as a better deal as they also keep off some animals and insects. Ironically if community members think nets will keep off insects are fooling themselves as sun exposure will destroy the pesticide.
The team had heard complaints about nets before – sleeping under a net is too hot; nets are difficult to hang. Because of such complaints, Orji noted, â€œIn our focal communities we are teaching community health workers to hang nets using net hangers provided by the State Ministry of Health (SMOH).â€
We wondered whether people are using the nets that adults would have used, or are they taking away from children and pregnant women? Orji explained that, â€œMost households in our LGAs have more than two. Some nets had been given to pregnant women before the State placed two nets per household. So, men can take new ones from State to use while women continue to use the ones obtained from us or vice visa.â€
Orji added that, â€œIt is very important for a formative research to investigate net use, reasons for non use and mis-use. We will develop a proposal to the SMOH for this.â€
Apparently the local health authorities were unaware of this problem until Orji â€œshared the photos at one of our partners’ meetings.â€ An SMOH staff member on the mobilization/supervision team told Orji that, â€œWe only do monitoring when an NGO invites us, or go out whenever the National Malaria Control Program visits.â€
This net mis-use highlighted some of the gender dynamics in the community. In terms of growing these vegetables, and farming in general, it is women’s responsibility. Orji explained that, â€œOne of the villlage chiefs informed us that women are the ones farming all their lands. In Onna the tradition is that men stay at home to drink while women go to farm.â€
Therefore the women most likely put up the nets over the vegetables.Â Orji somewhat joking added that, â€œPerhaps when the man got drunk, the woman decided to punish him by exposing him to mosquitos through the removal of his net.â€
What we have learned from this experience is two-fold. Follow-up education and assistance is needed to ensure that nets given out freely are actually used for the intended purpose. Secondly, this effort will be aided by formative research on how people perceive and value the nets. Otherwise all we will achieve is universal coverage of vegetable gardens! We should also find the agriculture extension agents in the area to help the people find better ways to protect their gardens from pests, otherwise nets will remain an attractive option.